I’ve been having a bit of a think about how asexuality is addressed in a social justice context. Well, to the extent to which it is addressed. I’ve been particularly troubled by how it gets manipulated as a politicised tool by sexual people at the expense of asexual people.
I almost always see asexuality brought up as a negative and inaccurately. For example, a disabled character or character of colour in a television show might be denied sexuality or coded as non-sexual. Someone critiquing this portrayal from a social justice perspective might condemn it as “asexualising” or some such, as though asexuality is an oppressive tool rather than an orientation.
As best I can gather, a good part of equating asexuality with the negative, with absence, comes from a skewing of feminist ideas around promoting sexual agency and fulfillment. I think a lot of feminists are operating under the idea that women in particular have been denied sexual pleasure, expression, and fulfillment, so encouraging everyone to stop being prudes and be sexual on their own terms is always the way to go. But the thing is, those terms, what happiness around sexuality looks like, is not the same for everyone. Models of proper sexuality still perpetuate the idea that “healthy” or “good” sexuality has to look a particular way, and that isn’t a way that’s going to fit every sexual assault survivor, or queer person, or, well, any individual, really.
The upshot here is that asexual people get hit particularly hard as being repressed or messed up, standing in the way of a singular social justice narrative around sexuality. I don’t want to set up sex positivity and asexuality as oppositional; I want to point to how an image of an appropriate sexuality leads to a widely misunderstood and scoffed at group becoming even more so. I mean, I thought the idea of an appropriate way of doing sexuality is what we’re trying to fight against, right? Perpetuating ideas of asexuality as fake, as always a result of trauma, the domain of prudes who just have to come out of their shells, and so forth, doesn’t look like positivity or justice to me.
But then, I don’t think asexual issues are seen as feminist issues (by sexual feminists, that is), where they’re acknowledged as existing. And that’s really sad, because helping along some people by pushing others out of the narrative does everyone a disservice. Striking close to any sexual feminist’s heart should be thinking on breaking down ideas of asexual people being seen as inevitably sad and lonely. Why is having sex, or being in a sexual relationship, such a marked site of societal anxiety? Examining how asexual people fit into a society shaped around living in accordance with sustained monogamous romantic/sexual partnerships (just to note, asexuality and romantic orientation are not mutally exclusive for all asexual people, and some asexual people do have sex) should be where the feminist analysis is at.
Shame around sexuality, and unjust ways of dealing with sexuality, are all around us, but I don’t think a feminism that promotes comfort with sexuality should be about putting asexual folks right back in that box.
I, as a person on the sexual side of things, am feeling a bit awkward being a person in a dominant group pontificating on behalf of a non-dominant group, so you should have some links on pieces by asexual people on the subject of asexuality and social justice, over at Charlie the Unicorn, Ace Detective, Hypomnemata, Writing From Factor X, and Primary Decomposition.